Putrajaya looks to Apex Court ruling for cue to repeal death sentence

Datuk Liew Vui Keong said the government will wait for the Federal Court to decide on a suit challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty for trafficking before it tables an amendment to abolish mandatory capital punishment for drug-related offences. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Liew Vui Keong said the government will wait for the Federal Court to decide on a suit challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty for trafficking before it tables an amendment to abolish mandatory capital punishment for drug-related offences. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The government will wait for the Federal Court to decide on a suit challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty for trafficking before it tables an amendment to abolish mandatory capital punishment for drug-related offences, de facto Law Minister Datuk VK Liew said today.

Liew’s assertion is the latest assuring statement that the Cabinet would back calls for abolishing the death sentence, after he said in March that Pakatan Harapan may consider other “options”. Today he told the press that the death penalty is disproportionate and personally saw it as unconstitutional.

“There is a case filed in Court and the Federal Court is waiting to give a decision on that where the applicants had challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty in drug cases,” he told the press after addressing a forum on drug law reform here.

“Because they are saying it is not proportion to the right of the person, the person under the Constitution has equal protection and equality before the law. Penalty in drug cases should not be the same as those sentenced under murder cases.”

The minister said in March the government was considering two other “options” and may not repeal the death penalty for trafficking, drawing backlash as groups accused PH of backtracking on an election pledge to abolish capital punishment.

Liew had said that the Cabinet could make a “moderate decision” following feedback from non-governmental organisations, families of crime victims and convicts on death row, as well as findings from a Home Ministry study.

But at today’s forum the minister called the death penalty for drug-related offences as an infringement a convict’s right, and that it violated the legal doctrine of proportionality.

“I am not saying we should call for the release of those convicted (for trafficking) but we should not send them to the gallows,” he told the forum.

Putrajaya’s first option is for the “total abolition” of the death penalty for 33 criminal offences covered in eight Acts, replacing it with life imprisonment instead, Liew said in March.

The eight laws are the Penal Code, Firearms (Heavier Penalties) Act 1971, Firearms Act 1960, Kidnapping Act 1961, Armed Forces Act 1972, Water Services Industries Act 2006, Strategic Trade Act 2010, and the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

The second option is for the death penalty to be non-mandatory for crimes such as murder, with judges gaining the discretion to alternatively sentence convicts to life imprisonment.

The minister said today the Cabinet was still weighing on the length of prison sentences for drug trafficking offences.

“It could be 30 years, or 35 years or 50 years or maybe life imprisonment.”

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